When SpaceX launch two satellites into orbit Friday evening from Florida, it lit up the night sky with more than just its fiery engines.
The twilight launch of two commercial SES satelltes, called O3b mPower 1 and 2, on Dec. 16 created brilliant jellyfish-like plume in the night sky visible to lucky stargazers from hundreds of miles away. The satellites launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 5:48 p.m. EST (2248 GMT) and was visible from as far away as North Carolina.
“We had great views of SpaceX‘s launch of O3b mPower 1&2 tonight and were treated to an awesome twilight effect,” wrote observers at NCSpaceOps on Twitter (opens in new tab), tagging the view as a “jellyfish effect.”
We had great views of @SpaceX’s launch of O3b mPower 1&2 tonight and were treated to an awesome twilight effect over #SOBX & #CoastalNC! #spacex #nc #NorthCarolina #twilighteffect #jellyfisheffect pic.twitter.com/RYk7zxBCcJDecember 17, 2022
Ed Piotrowski, the chief meteorologist for WPDE ABC-15 in North Carolina, shared a series of photos by observers on Twitter.
The photos (opens in new tab), taken from various locations around North Carolina, show stunning views of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at sunset, trailing a vast, iridescent tail as it soared into space.
Spectacular shot of #SpaceX #Falcon9 🚀 flying high over Pawleys Island this evening. Awesome photo Benjamin Dameron! #scwx #ncwx @natwxdesk pic.twitter.com/PbKvWpZK2CDecember 17, 2022
Another cool 📸 of the #SpaceX #Falcon9 🚀 launch as seen Ocean Isle Beach via Mickey Cochran. #scwx #ncwx pic.twitter.com/KPUnHIVNcqDecember 17, 2022
One of the best shots I’ve seen of the #SpaceX #Falcon9 launch. This was taken by Rusty Flagg in Cherry Grove. pic.twitter.com/BLbrYJxHbzDecember 16, 2022
Some observers asked Piotrowski for help identifying what they were seeing in the night sky.
“Ed Piotrowski, what is this thing?” asked observer Harrison Santangelo on Twitter (opens in new tab).
@EdPiotrowski what is this thing? Seen around 6:00 over the Atlantic. pic.twitter.com/ifRmCjCqcIDecember 16, 2022
One observer, Jermaine Somerset, even reported seeing the launch from the Turk and Caicos Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, over 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) from the Florida launch site, and shared the view in an Instagram post (opens in new tab).
The photos from North Carolina were even more striking when considering that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket plunged into a cloud layer above Cape Canaveral, Florida shortly after liftoff. The view was still amazing to space reporter and photographer Ken Kremer, who captured a long-exposure streak of the launch.
“60sec wide angle twilight streak! punched into thick overhead clouds never to be seen again!,” Kremer wrote of the launch on Twitter (opens in new tab).
60sec wide angle twilight streak! punched into thick overhead clouds never to be seen again! Blastoff #SpaceX #Falcon9 @SES 548pm pad 40,right of huge USAF rocket/sat facility. Delivered 2 O3b mPower 1&2 broadband comsats to MEO. 1.7mil lb thrust exhaust spew + water reflection! pic.twitter.com/gmseSgNUogDecember 17, 2022
Veteran launch photographer Ben Cooper matched a long-exposure of the sunset launch with a closeup of the moment of liftoff in his views shared on Twitter (opens in new tab).
Photographer Michael Seeley captured a similar view (opens in new tab) while observing the launch from 14 miles (22 km) away in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
At 5:48pm (ET) Friday #SpaceX launched the O3b mPOWER mission for @SES_Satellites. This was the view from Cocoa Beach, Florida, 14 miles south of the pad (SLC-40). pic.twitter.com/6vVZJ9Rlh3December 16, 2022
SpaceX’s launch of the SES satellites was actually its second rocket flight of the day on Friday. The Hawthorne, California-based company kicked off the day with the launch of NASA’s new Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite to map Earth’s water like never before.
That mission lifted off at 6:46 a.m. EST (1146 GMT) from a SpaceX pad at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. SpaceX photos of the flight show brilliant views of the launch, as well as the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returning for a landing in both still and long-exposure views.
Falcon 9 launches the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission to orbit; first stage booster returns to Earth pic.twitter.com/VOoFXucRrTDecember 16, 2022
SpaceX will launch another Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on Saturday (Dec. 17) to deliver a new batch of its Starlink internet satellites into orbit. That mission will launch from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Liftoff is at 4:32 p.m. EST (2142 GMT).
You can watch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch live online, courtesy of SpaceX. We’ll showcase it on Space.com’s homepage and our preview story. SpaceX’s webcasts typically begin about 15 minutes before liftoff.